Tech change agent Julie Won announces candidacy for western Queens City Council seat

julie won 1
Angélica Acevedo/QNS

Technology professional and Community Board 2 member Julie Won officially launched her campaign for City Council in District 26 underneath the Sunnyside arch on Monday, Oct. 19.

Won joins the growing list of more than a dozen candidates who are vying for the City Council seat currently held by term-limited Jimmy Van Bramer, which represents the Queens neighborhoods of Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside.

Won said she will stand out from the pool of candidates thanks to her lived experience as well as her background in digital strategy.

“I’m going to continue to be very bold and unapologetic about the experiences that I’ve had that has led me to stand for these policy issues — making sure we have labor rights, making sure we have public safety, what it means to stand with our Black brothers and sisters to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and being very open with where I stand,” Won told QNS.

Won, a Woodside resident, spent the last seven years in the tech industry as a technology change agent, working to innovate constituent experiences of federal and city government services, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

She served on the advisory board for Community Capacity Development (CCD): 696 Build Queensbridge and the executive board of the Korean-American Association of Greater New York.

Won also served on the Queens borough president’s Complete Count Committee for the 2020 census as the founder of the Technology Action Group.

In 1998, Won’s family immigrated to Queens in the wake of the South Korean financial crisis. Her parents worked in small businesses in her community, her mother as a nail salon technician, her whole life.

During her press conference, Won spoke about her parents, who never took a day off or had paid time off.

“I learned how to be a true New Yorker from my mom,” said Won. “Through sickness and through health, through rainstorms, hail storms, snowstorms, hurricanes, you name it, I never missed a day of school — the same way my mom has never missed a day of work.”

She wants to see all working New Yorkers have paid sick leave, maternity leave and proper health insurance.

Won added that she was finally able to give her parents a vacation, after seven years of saving and planning, right before they lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

She then spent the onset of 2020 helping her father, mother and brother navigate the Department of Labor, as a result of the agency’s lack of language accessibility.

“I had to juggle my demanding job … while running this campaign,” said Won. “I supported my family with language translation and digital literacy skills so that they could qualify for unemployment benefits.”

She said more than nine weeks later, her family began to receive the unemployment benefits.

“We are the citizens of the richest country in the world. We, as citizens, should not want to bang our heads into our computer screens when dealing with our government services,” she said.

Her family’s experience has led her to make small business recovery, ahead of corporate interests, her main priority.

“Every day that we wait to help them, that we do not shop local to support them, is a risk where they may close down — and it is a huge risk for families like mine, where small businesses were the only ones that would take a risk and give them an opportunity to have a job.”

Won also called for a “clear standardization and governance” of business reopenings during the pandemic.

Jonathan Forgash, chef and co-founder of Queens Together, said he supports Won’s candidacy because “she will fight to ensure a fair and just recovery for our neighbors and businesses that make up our neighborhoods.”

If elected, Won would be the first Korean-American woman to serve as an elected official in New York state.

Roz Gianutsos, a longtime Sunnyside resident and Families for Safe Streets activist, said that Won is “energetic and resilient” and “embodies civic engagement.”

“Julie Won has thrown her hat in the ring to be the NYC Council member for District 26. We are fortunate to have a pool of exceptional progressive talent,” said Gianutsos. “Julie stands out and deserves your attention – whether you are a small business owner, an immigrant, or amongst the 77 percent of New Yorkers who do not own or register a car. And even if, like me, you are none of these things, Julie will still appeal to you.”

Won has raised more than $20,000 to launch her campaign, and said she will continue grassroots fundraising while denying PAC donations to run a competitive campaign.

She said her professional and life experiences will bring needed representation to the City Council.

“I’m running for City Council because the American dream, in my personal life, has proven to be false, as well as the myth of the model minority,” said Won. “We need to elect leaders, like myself, who understand the struggle of our everyday lives from our personal experiences, not through proxies or from a distance. What this pandemic has shown us is that all inequities get further exposed in times of crisis, and we need to work together as a community, with organizations like mutual aids and other nonprofits that are based on our communities, to fill in the gaps.”